Joshua Swiger had struggled with his weight for much of his life. Following a stint in the United States Marines, the O‘ahu, Hawaii native ballooned up to 300 pounds and was obese for two decades. Three-hundred turned into 320, then 350, then 375. Eventually he hit 400 on the scale. It's possible that he surpassed 400, but can't say for sure.
“I’m not really sure what my max weight was," the 43-year-old says, "because scales don’t go that high.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March of 2020, the out-of-shape Swiger got hit in the mouth. His tourism business in Hawaii, where he lived, was on track for a huge month. But over the course of three days, it all went away. With nobody traveling, and with no indication of when any form of travel would resume, his business was essentially destroyed.
Though initially devastating, the bad fortune ended up being a blessing in disguise for Swiger. Without a business to run, he had a lot of time on his hands. He intended to use it to transform his body.
Swiger had made many attempts to get in shape, but he was never able to make it stick. He'd managed to lose 90 pounds once, but ended up putting all of it back on. This time around he strongly considered undergoing bariatric surgery, and even scheduled the appointment to have the procedure. Prior to undergoing the surgery, doctors often have their patients drop at least some weight. They need to see that the patient has the discipline and capability to lose, as that is essential in the aftermath of the surgery.
A newly-determined Swiger took that to heart and began losing. And losing. And losing. When he dropped 45 pounds, he though to himself, Hey, do I really need this surgery? Twenty pounds later, he made the decision to postpone it a month. Then he postponed it another month. When he lost 100 pounds, he decided that enough was enough. He called the surgery off. Why have surgery when you can lose the weight naturally?
All told, Swiger lost 200 pounds during the pandemic. His goal weight, when he began this transformation mission, was 200. Currently, when he steps on the scale it reads 199.5.
How He Lost 200 Pounds: The Nutrition and the Training
Rigorous training and proper nutrition were both critical factors in Swiger's weight-loss journey, but he credits the latter with having the most impact. He adopted a low-carb meal plan, figuring that that was the easiest way to cut calories, and began eating as much protein as possible. He consumed 1,000 calories daily for two months, and then upped it slightly to 1,200 calories per day over the next year. He loaded up on protein — 120 grams, 140 grams, 160 grams per day — and much of his diet consisted of meat and vegetables.
He didn't have a specific carb limit, but he generally kept it to 30-40 grams of carbs per day. Swiger lived by two cardinal rules that could not be broken: Stay under the calorie limit, and meet the minimum protein requirement. To stay within those boundaries, he didn't eat bread, rice, or pasta for an entire year.
When Swiger first began dropping weight, his training consisted of walking for a couple of hours in his hilly neighborhood. When he got down to 265, he began running short distances — usually a mile or so — and increased it slowly over time. But after losing 50 or 60 pounds, he realized that he was losing muscle.
“I don’t want to lose all this weight and then start getting in shape," Swiger remembers thinking at the time. "I’m gonna start getting strong now, so by the time I hit my goal weight I’ll already be partway down that road.”
That's when the veteran returned to the gym. He diversified his training, doing a little bit of everything: weights and plyometrics to build muscle, and every kind of cardio, from the elliptical to the stairs to the bike. When he wasn't at the gym, he'd do a wide array of bodyweight exercises and calisthenics to keep the muscle on.
During his pursuit of a personal trainer, the now-fitness-obsessed Hawaiian decided to just become one. (He had plenty of time on his hands, remember?) In August of 2021, Swiger completed his personal trainer certification, and added a few additional certifications on top of that, including a group fitness trainer certification.
Fitness and wellness is no longer just Swiger's lifestyle. It's also his career.
“The motivation for me is I’ve come so far," Swiger says. "I’ve gained so much. I want other people to accomplish what I’ve done and beyond. I want people to eclipse me. That’s my motivation. That’s why I can get up at 3:30 in the morning and be out there doing training, and be energetic and be excited for them, because I see them way down the road.
"Somebody who’s morbidly obese, I can picture them running a road race or playing with their grandkids, being able to chase them without getting all worn out.”
This Is 'Jeopardy!': A Lifelong Dream Realized
Two months before Swiger lost his business, and subsequently turned his life around, he had another monumental experience. In January of 2020, the father of four appeared on Jeopardy! and absolutely slaughtered, winning $16,400 in his debut. He appeared a second time but couldn't retain his title, winning $2,000 in defeat.
Being on Jeopardy! had been a lifelong dream for Swiger, who grew up watching the iconic game show as a child.
“I wanted to be on Jeopardy! since I was about 7 years old," he says. "I used to watch the show every day with my mom. When I was a kid, I knew I was gonna be on it. As a kid, my goal was to be the first person to win both Jeopardy! and American Gladiators."
The Jeopardy! appearance was 17 years in the making. He auditioned in person, at the studio where it's filmed, in the early 2000s but never heard back, and then took three online tests. Finally, he received the call that he had been waiting for, alerting him that, at long last, he'd be on the show. He knew instantly that he was going to win.
“It was incredible," Swiger says. "It was absolutely incredible. The money wasn’t really the thing that mattered to me. In any given competition, you want to compete at the highest level. And in trivia, that’s it. It doesn’t get bigger than Jeopardy!"
A Year of Racing
Now that Swiger is in the best shape of his life, he's committed to channeling his competitive spirit into racing.
As the pounds continued to fall off and Swiger put on muscle mass, he got the bug to compete athletically. He began searching for opportunities to compete in and around O‘ahu, and that's how he found Spartan. He had heard of Spartan before — he'd seen the logo on the back of Jeeps — but didn't know much about it. When he logged onto the website to investigate further, he came across a short video of the course and the obstacles. He was hooked instantly. This was going to be his next mission.
Swiger's 2022 schedule is jam-packed with races of all kinds. He's planning to do his second 10K road race in March, a triathlon in April, and then a half marathon in May. He'll then run the Spartan 10K Super in Hawaii, on Kualoa Ranch in O‘ahu, in August. In December, the plan is to cap 2022 off with his ultimate goal: finishing the Honolulu Marathon in December.
But make no mistake: When he toes the start line in late August, his goal will not be merely to finish the Hawaii Super. His goal will be to win it, as improbable as that may seem for someone running their first Spartan race. But that's the only way he knows how to approach it.
“You’re going up against a group of people who are very highly motivated and very well-trained," Swiger says of what he knows about Spartan racing. "It's not like a company picnic obstacle course. If I’m gonna compete, I’m gonna compete against people who I know are good.
"I know there’s people who are a lot more capable than me. It doesn’t matter. I’m gonna try to win.”